the challenge of winning the Epsom Derby is encapsulated by Our Channel, today’s big race outsider who is trained by Skipton-born William Haggas.
This is the handler’s first entry in the race since Shaamit’s victory in 1996 – his only previous runner in the contest.
Yet Haggas, son-in-law to the legendary Derby-winning jockey Lester Piggott, will be pleasantly surprised if he makes it two wins from two attempts.
Even though his stable continues to be in a rich vein of form following its annus mirabilis of 2013, Haggas is philosophical about the chances of Our Channel, who caught the eye when winning a maiden at Beverley last September by eight lengths.
He then showed great battling qualities when winning the Investec Derby Trial at Epsom in April, though today’s blue riband race is two furlongs longer.
“He’s got an enormous task,” Haggas told The Yorkshire Post after saddling a runner at Ripon earlier this week.
“He’s running because the owners wanted to have a runner. I said that was fine if the horse won a Derby trial. He did, but he was running on empty at the end.”
Reflecting on the 18-year gap between Derby runners, the thoughtful Haggas offers this explanation: “The majority of horses are in very few people’s hands, be it trainers or owners.
“You need a lot of luck to find the right horse. I could have had other runners but they wouldn’t have won.
“I’m delighted to run the horse for the owners (Abdullah Al Mansoori), but both eyes are wide open. Their attitude is, ‘why not?’ and I don’t blame them. In this business, as well as training horses, we’re trying to deliver a dream.”
It is why Haggas had no qualms about booking Silvestre de Sousa for a first ride in the race – the jockey, who served his racing apprenticeship in Thirsk, has been sidelined by Godolphin’s decision to utilise the experience of three-time Derby winner Kieren Fallon on True Story.
“He’s an excellent rider and a rider like him should be riding in the Derby,” added Haggas.
Another beneficiary is James Doyle, whose first Derby ride will be aboard Godolphin’s Pinzolo as 2011 Derby-winning jockey Mickael Barzalona continues to be sidelined by Sheikh Mohammed’s racing operation.
Doyle’s confidence is boosted by his success in the Irish 2000 Guineas about Kingman – a first Classic success for the jockey whose services are now retained by Prince Khalid Abdullah.
He is not alone. Oisin Murphy, a teenage apprentice who has recorded a string of high-profile wins at Doncaster and aboard Kevin Ryan’s Hot Streak at Haydock a fortnight ago, was selected ahead of veterans like Frankie Dettori to partner Ed Dunlop’s Red Galileo – even though he cannot utilise his three-pound weight allowance in this Grade One.
Murphy is attached to the yard of Andrew Balding, whose runner, Impulsive Moment, is a first Derby ride for David Probert.